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Grad School Admissions: Prepare during Your Junior-Year (and Before!)

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Grad School Admissions: Prepare during Your Junior-Year (and Before!) PictureYouth / Flickr

The process of getting into graduate school begins long before an application form is completed or an admissions essay drafted. Keep your goal of getting into graduate school in mind throughout college and you'll be more likely to get the experiences you need for a competitive application. Here's what you can do as an undergraduate junior or even sophomore to advance towards your goal of gaining admission to graduate school.

Get Information About Programs
Gather information. How do you find out what universities have graduate programs in your field? Once available only in printed form (that is, back in the old days before the Internet was commonplace),Peterson's Planner is a searchable directory of graduate programs in all fields. Enter your search criteria and you'll get a list of programs, which info about each program. Use this as starting point. Don't rely on only one source. Supplement this information with Internet searches. Also talk to classmates and faculty to get leads on graduate programs that might be right for you.

Once you have located prospective graduate programs, gather as much information as you can. Scan the website. Request catalogs and applications from schools that you may be interested in. Why rely on old fashioned printed materials? Much, perhaps all of the information you need is available on the Internet; but sometimes graduate programs include more information - or different information - on their brochure than on their website. Request brochures, catalogs, and other printed materials.

Determine Admissions Requirements
What exactly do programs require for admission? Compare programs. What do each require? GRE? Subject GRE? You may find that some programs have more challenging requirements and others less so. Does the program list the average GRE score of entering students? Try to ascertain the minimum requirements. Does the department require any specific course work? Out-of-class experiences? Remember that your list of minimum requirements is just that: the bare minimum that might get an applicant through the door. The bare minimum, however, likely will not get you accepted. Instead, consider the minimum as a threshold. If you want a shot at gaining admittance to a graduate program, plan on exceeding the minimum requirements substantially.

Select Programs to Which to Apply
Analyze the information that you have gathered. The first step in selecting programs is to consider each program's goals and faculty: How well do they match your interests and needs? Other considerations in choosing graduate programs to which to apply include funding, the program's reputation, and your own gut feeling about whether it's a good match for you.

Discuss Your Career Goals
Take advantage of the knowledge and experience around you. Meet with faculty and career counselors to discuss programs and your plans. Ask faculty about their experiences as students. How did they know they wanted to go to graduate school? Did they think they'd be a professor? What would they do differently? What do their grad school friends do? Are they all professors? What other options exist?

Establish Relationships with Faculty
Discussing your career goals is one way to establish contact with faculty. Remember that all of your contacts with faculty matter in influencing their impression of you: your demeanor in class, whether you say hello outside of class, and your overall attitude matters. Seek to make contact in substantial and content-rich ways. Talk with faculty after class. Visit office hours. Seek research experiences with faculty. When you need help, ask for it in appropriate ways.

Take Coursework to Strengthen Your Application
Take extra elective courses that may aid your application. For example, in psychology, extra math, science, and statistics courses are good bets.

Prepare for Standardized Tests
Determine which standardized tests to take. Take a methodical approach to preparing. Take a practice test to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Try to take the test in conditions similar to the testing environment. Construct a plan for studying material that you're weak on and for learning how to take the test. Consider taking a test prep course.

Take Standardized Tests
Plan to take any required standardized tests by the end of your Junior year. Take them early so that you can retake them if needed. However, do not take a standardized test for practice, that is, without having prepared beforehand. In most cases graduate schools see all of your test scores, even if the lowest aren't counted.

Get Experiences
Getting into graduate school requires more than grades. It requires Experience. Get involved in your field. Assist professor with a project or do some volunteer work. Do anything that shows that you have some experience in your field. Volunteer, educational, paid - it doesn't matter what, just get experience.

Check Your Transcript
Even universities make mistakes. Check your transcript for errors to avoid grief later on.

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